Monday, 30 November 2009

Iran: Shiraz to Isfahan with an unexpected detour

Saturday Part 2
We went out in the pouring rain to visit the castle called Arg-e Karim Khan which was built in the mid-1700s. The castle has high walls and 4x14m high watch towers. One of these towers has a “Pisa” style lean to it as its started subsiding into the area that was once the castle bathhouse. The castle was used as a prison during the reign of the Shah. Inside the castle walls is a large courtyard now planted with orange trees. In one of the buildings is a very interesting display of photos of Shiraz over the past 100 years. We went back to the hotel to collect our bags and have a final coffee with Mr Abbas before we went to the airport for our flight to Isfahan. The tv in the foyer was showing local soccer being played in a heavy snowfall and the receptionist told us that the game was being played in Isfahan. Mr Abbas rang the airport, was told that flights to Isfahan were unaffected so we headed out.

Shiraz airport is modern, clean. We checked in our bags for our flight which was bound for Tehran with a stop in Isfahan where we'd be getting off. We farewelled Mr Abbas who had by this stage adopted Jess as his 'daughter'. Once on the plane our departure was delayed as a big pow-wow took place between the pilots, the cabin crew, a couple of guys in vizi vests and another mystery guy in his late 20s who was trying to look normal while eyeballing all the passengers – even the children. Mystery Man wore the same style of jacket (lab coat meets safari suit) favoured by Mr Ahmadinejad. We eventually took off and Mystery Man sat in one of the crew jump seats at the front of the plane like a teacher watching errant students. As soon as we were at altitude Mystery Man stood up and continued to watch the passengers like a hawk. After 30 minutes we were served a meal of a bread roll containing what appeared to be a cold chicken McNugget together 1.5 slices of pickle per roll, a faux Bounty Bar called a Nori and a box of juice. Together with the meal came the captain's announcement that cabin crew should take their seats for landing in Isfahan, the announcement was made in English.

Nothing happened.

We didn't descend we just kept on going....and going. Eventually there was a long announcement in Farsi, but none of the other passengers seemed overly concerned by its contents. The cabin crew got out of their seats and wandered round collecting rubbish. Colin asked one of the crew whether we were overflying Isfahan and she happily answered “Oh yes, that's what the announcement was saying. Isfahan airport's closed and the plane's landing in Tehran.” She said we'd probably wait there 5 or 6 hours and then fly back to Isfahan. On landing, all the Tehran passengers left the plane while the Isfahan-bound crowd, which was nearly ½ the plane, stayed on board. Mystery Man had disappeared by this time. After a while an announcment was made in Farsi and all the Iranian passengers got up from their seats, hauled their luggage out of the overhead lockers and stood in the aisle waiting. After 5 minutes or so, another announcement was made in Farsi which resulted in the Iranian passengers putting their luggage back into the overhead lockers and sitting down again. After a further 45 minutes we were ushered off the plane. Thankfully Colin met a helpful Tehrani who from that point translated all the announcements. We got into an airport bus and were deposited at the terminal where we were hustled into a huge room with dozens of 2 and 3 seater sofas lined up in rows. This was to be our home for however long it took until Isfahan airport reopened, we knew by this stage that the runway there was frozen. The crowd of irate passengers gathered round the only Iran Air employee who ventured into view and the volume rose steadily. Long story short, many of the passengers, us included, decided to go to the bus station to catch a scheduled long haul coach from Tehran to Isfahan. The last coach left at 2am and that's the one we wanted to get. We got into a taxi with another friendly Irani who had been on the same flight. Our 3 suitcases had been put on the taxi roof and were held by a single bungy cord (occi strap for Aussies). There were no seatbelts and unfortunately we had Death's Personal Driver at the back when I was young and stupid I've been in cars where the drivers have been drunk as a skunk but every one of them has driven better than this guy...he was all over the road, cut off cars and trucks with impunity, missed motorbikes by inches, he hit the kerb while cutting across 4 lanes on the freeway, he didn't know where the gears were, almost into the side of a huge truck, I could go on and on without mentioning how he cut off a police car and then tooting his horn at the them. We arrived safely at the bus station which was a miracle....I was so tempted to fall on my knees and kiss the ground, but we had no time. The bus station is high volume chaos; there are bus company touts yelling at potential passengers, passengers yelling at taxi drivers, which is what our friendly Irani taxi mate was doing, cars unloading people, suitcases everywhere. Our Iranian friend found the bus to Isfahan and we all threw our bags into the luggage compartment. The compartment was also open on the other side so we just hoped that our bags didn't disappear as soon as we put them in. Jess and I were given the front two seats, as we were ladies travelling together, Colin was behind us. All the while the bus tout for our bus was on the bus-off the bus -yelling-pointing-yelling some more, whew this boy was wired! Eventually the bus left at about 2:30am fully loaded including some Army guys who seemed to be having a low level stoush with some of the other passengers in the back of the bus but it was all very refined up in the ladies department. The girls in the seat opposite us asked for a Persian soap opera dvd to be played and then promptly went to sleep for the rest of the trip. The trip went smoothly, the driver knew what he was doing and was a real pro, bless his little Turkish cotton socks. There were lots of stops for toll roads and it as we got further away from Tehran the outside temperature started dropping. At one point we were driving through areas covered with thick snow. How the guys who were travelling in the compartment with the luggage managed I don't know......oh, didn't I mention them?

We arrived in Isfahan at 7am, retrieved our suitcases from the guys in the luggage compartment and were met by our guide Mr Zanadi. He took us to our hotel and we all hit the sack for a couple of hours.

One day late, but hello Isfahan....the city a French poet said is “...half the world.”

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Iran: Shiraz Day 2 and 3

We started the day by visiting Bagh-e Eram (Eram Gardens) which are several hundred years old and best known for the stand of cypress trees growing there. The gardens are now operated by Shiraz University and are very pretty even in November which is the beginning of winter. The garden is famous for its extensive rose gardens which bloom in March. In the centre of the gardens is a 1700s palace called Kakh-e Eram which has richly tiled frescos on the exterior walls. On the way out of the garden we saw a group of uni students from Shiraz University pharmacy department, having their graduation photo taken. In no time, the three of us were in the graduation photo too.
Next stop was the Afif Abad garden which is run by the military and there seemed to be more soldiers than gardeners around. There's something odd about restful walkways of greenery that lead to displays of tanks and artillery. The palace in the garden now houses an extensive display of military hardware from ancient times. There is a smaller building whose interior walls are tiled with depictions of heroic deeds from Persian mythology, Rostum killing various devils and monsters. Our guide started reciting a poem by Fedosi which tells one of the stories and straight away another visitor joined in. The poetry is regarded as a national treasure and this bore out what Abbas had said, that everyone knows the poems.
From the gardens we moved to Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk an 18th century house named after its female owner. The house now contains a wax museum depicting ancient kings and ceremonies, famous poets from the region and a section of models of famous local mullahs. One model was of a famous local pilot who was killed in the Iran-Iraq war and who had been a close boyhood friend of Abbas our guide.
Just a couple of minutes drive away, a couple of terrifying, gasp inducing minutes, is the 19th century mosque of Nair ol Molk. On the large wooden doors at the entrance to the mosque there are two different shaped door knockers, one for each sex. As the knockers each give a different sound, the people inside the mosque knew whether to send a woman or a man to open the door. The coloured tiled interior is stunning with many shades of blue used. Some show pictures of European buildings including churches and there were many showing flowers including roses with several shades of pink in the tiles. Wooden inserts the size of bricks were inserted during the construction of the walls, these inserts give flexibility during earthquakes. To one side of the courtyard is the winter prayer hall with beautiful stained glass windows and further inside is the Gav Cha (cow well) named because cows were used to pull water up from the well there. On the other side of the courtyard is the summer prayer hall which had more beautiful tile work and was interesting because it has no minbar (pulpit). The curator said that in the 20 years he'd been at the mosque there had never been a minbar and the mullah sits on a chair to deliver his sermon.
In the afternoon we left Jessica at the hotel to catch up on some sleep while we went with Abbas to the Iran Travel Industry Trade Show at an exhibition centre on the outskirts of Shiraz. The show was held in 3 huge exhibition halls filled with displays by travel companies, some countries, companies touting medical tourism and others that specialised in religious travel to the many shrines in Iran. We watched a performance by nomadic musicians from the Fars region of Iran while eating ashe reshte, a thick soup with lentils and meat which was the perfect warm up as the rain was pelting down again and it was getting cold.
At the exhibition like everywhere else we've been, people were very friendly, people asked to have their photos taken with us, asked where we were from. Occasionally a group of teenage girls would come up to us and the bravest would nervously say 'hi' to me. When I said 'hi' back, they'd all burst into fits of giggles.

Today has been declared as Eid-e Ghorban (Eid al Adha), despite it being expected yesterday. As a result the bazaar is shut today. We started the day with a trip to Hafez' tomb. Hafez is a famous Iranian poet born in Shiraz in 1324. His collection of poems known as 'Divan-e Hafez' and is considered to be a must have in Iranian homes. Iranians say that all homes should have two things; the Quran and Hafez. His poems are almost mystical in content, and its a ritual when deciding on a future action to open Hafez's poem at a random place and study the verse revealed. The tomb is set under a rotunda in the middle of a rose garden and is a popular visiting place for families. Recitations of Hafez' poems are broadcast over the garden's PA system. On the street outside the grounds, several men stand carrying boxesof extracts from Hafez' poems in one hand and a budgie in the other. Upon payment of 5,000 riyals ($5) the budgie will select a random verse from the box with its beak and this verse will deal with your future.
The next stop was the tomb of Sa'di another famous Shirazi poet whose verses are still quoted in conversation today. His tomb is in a pavilion surrounded by gardens. The pavilion walls are inlaid with tiles showing his most famous verses. The tomb itself is made from a single piece of alabaster. Next to the pavilion is an underground fishpond full of trout which is surrounded by au underground tea house with an attractive domed ceiling covered in tilework. We stopped there for a quick cuppa and several families came up to us to ask where we were from, what we thought of Iran and what we'd seen.
This afternoon we're visiting the citadel and then making our way to Shiraz airport for a quick 30 minute flight to Esfahan.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Iran: I said I'd be back took 31 years but here I am back in Iran. Its wonderful to be here with my husband and my beautiful daughter.
We left Sharjah at 5pm for the flight to Shiraz in Iran which takes a bit over an hour. The first thing we saw in Shiraz airport was a sign depicting a pair of non-sex specific cartoon characters hugging with a big “banned” symbol across it. Our driver/guide, Abbas, met us once we cleared customs and took us to our hotel. The trip took about 40 minutes and it quickly became apparent why Iran has the highest rate of road deaths in the world, in 2006 nearly 28,000!
Today we visited Pasargardae the ruins of a city started by Cyrus the Great in 546BC. The main sight to see is the tomb of Cyrus himself, a relatively stark stone mausoleum on 6 raised stone steps, the tomb was once surrounded by gardens but these are long gone.
From Pasargardae we went on to the rock tombs at Naqsh-e Rostum. There are 4 tombs (Darius I and II, Xerxes and Artaxerxes) cut out of the cliff way above the ground, each tomb has impressive stone reliefs engraved below it. As the kings at that time were Zoroastrian, their bodies were initially put on Towers of Silence to be picked clean by birds of prey, after that the bones were moved into the rock tombs. Opposite the tombs is a small building called the Kaba Zartosht, its purpose is still being debated, maybe it was a fire temple or a treasury.
Next stop was Persepolis. The complex at Persepolis covers 12 hectares and at its peak contained 14 separate palaces. Its built on a huge stone platform at the foot of what's known as Mt Mercy. Construction started in about 518BC under the direction of Darius I. Visitors enter up the majestic Grand Staircase. Despite there being 111 steps it seems an easy climb as the height of the steps is less than their width. Its thought the stairs were designed this way so that 4 footed animals could be brought up the stairs to be presented to the king and also so important visitors could glide up the stairs in their flowing long gowns (that's blokes I'm talking about here) without the risk of tripping over.
At the top of the stairs is the Gate of All Lands, two huge stone blocks with bull shaped statues. The bulls have wings and human heads. All visitors passed through this gate before entering the palace complex. There's a lot of graffiti on the stone bases of the statues including that of Stanley of the NY Herald-Tribune, who later became famous for saying: “Dr Livingstone I presume.” Inside the complex the Apadana audience hall is the largest of all the buildings. The building was constructed in around 515BC and continued in use for nearly 200 years. All the walls in the complex were covered with bas relief figures, many showing the numerous nations that made up the Persian empire at that time. Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great's troops one December night in 330BC. Unfortunately it poured with rain the whole time we were there, but rain is a novelty after Dubai, so it didn't detract from the magnificence of the ruins.
I took lots of photos and I'll upload them to Smugmug when I get back to Dubai.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Abu Dhabi court orders freeze on Saad assets

Source: Arabian
Abu Dhabi Summary Court has issued an order for the provisional attachment of the bank deposits of Saad Trading, Contracting and Financial Services Company and Saad Holding Company as well as the partners in these two Saudi firms, according to a report.
Giving its decision on a writ filed by a large national bank in the UAE, the court also ordered the provisional seizure of any movable properties in any emirate as well as the major amount of shares they own in a number of companies listed in the stock markets in the UAE, the newswire WAM reported on Thursday.
The attachment order on deposits with the banks operating in the UAE has been enforced with immediate effect through the UAE central bank, which in turn will send circulars to the banks for the attachment of deposits within the limit of $151m, WAM added.
The defendants had signed loan agreements with the bank for credit facilities, the total value of which had reached $151m, it said.
The two firms then had defaulted on repayment of the loans and were being sued by creditors at the local, regional and global levels leading to the deterioration of credit ratings of the subsidiaries of these two companies by international rating agencies, WAM said.
Moreover, a number of creditors had resorted to the seizure and freezing of funds and assets of one of their affiliates, the newswire added.

Bouncing a cheque in Dubai

Adding to the story below is the very cautionary tale of an aquaintance who lived and worked in Dubai in the early 2000s.  This person returned to their home country and remained there for 6+years.  They've just returned to the UAE and started a new job.  During the visa check process the authorities have discovered that the person bounced a cheque during their first stint here.  The person was arrested on the spot and it turns out that a case had been brought against them in Dubai Court years ago and they'd been found guilty in absentia.  The sentence handed down at the time was a 6 month jail term and the person started serving that sentence this week, starting the day after their arrest.  Be warned, don't bounce a cheque in the UAE..all the rumours are true.

New job in Dubai ends in jail time

This story seems to back up something I heard recently about a New Zealander, here in the UAE on a week's holiday.  He went to visit a friend at their Dubai office.  The friend had to leave the office briefly and told the Kiwi to sit at the friend's desk and surf the internet to fill in time while he waited.  During the friend's absence, the immigration guys arrived for a spot check, something which happens in Dubai fairly regularly.  They saw the Kiwi "working", checked his passport which showed a tourist visa and arrested him for working illegally.  No explanations were accepted and the Kiwi ended up in jail for several weeks until his release could be arranged.
Source: 7 Days 17 Nov 09
Two British real estate agents have been jailed for working without visas just days after starting new jobs in Dubai.
Nick Awalski and David Wynn have now been in Al Aweer jail for three weeks after they were found working on tourist visas.
Awalski had been at his new company just two days when he was nabbed in a visa raid.
A close friend said she was shocked by the arrests and said she hoped it wasn’t the start of a clampdown on foreigners.
“I don’t understand it. Everyone works on a tourist visa while their papers are being sorted out.
Nick and David never intended to break the law,” she said.
Both were arrested in the reception area of the company after labour officials posed as clients wanting to buy an apartment.
Awalski’s heartbroken mother has flown in from the UK to visit him in jail.
“His family aren’t taking it well, they are heartbroken and very worried about his future,” the friend said.
Awalski had previously worked for a major Dubai property company, while Wynn had just arrived from the UK for the new job.
“They had left it to the company to sort out their paperwork, like everyone does,” the friend said.
Wynn, 27, from Reading and Awalski, 30, from London, are due to appeal their conviction and deportation at a hearing scheduled for November 24.
Their lawyer, Abdullah Al Nassar, confirmed that the two men had only just begun working when they were jailed and said it should never have happened.
“It’s just really bad luck,” he said, adding there was no set time limit for companies to obtain work visas and that many employees go for weeks or months without the correct work visas.
An official from the Dubai General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs confirmed that there is no set time limit for companies to obtain work visas but said that they should file early to avoid legal problems.
He said he could not comment on individual cases.

Oprah apologises over Dubai programme

Source: The National
Harpo, the production company behind The Oprah Winfrey Show, has apologised for misrepresenting Dubai in a segment of the programme featuring women around the world.

Dr Lamees Hamdan of Dubai, an Emirati mother of five and the founder of the Shiffa cosmetics brand, sparked controversy when she appeared via Skype as one of six women featured on the hugely popular US-based show.
The segment began with a voice-over by Ms Winfrey that said: “Thanks to this country’s rich oil supplies, the government provides its citizens with free water, electricity and health care. The best part? No income tax!”
Dr Hamdan said, incorrectly, that water, electricity and health services were free in the UAE. And she referred to the shela and abaya as “cultural” and not religious. She said she does not wear them, although her sisters do.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for Oprah’s production company told PageSix of the New York Post that “it was never the intention of the Oprah show to misrepresent the people of Dubai”.
Many local viewers of the show have reacted. Haif Zamzam from Abu Dhabi wrote on The National website that she was “highly disappointed that people got this worked up about what [Dr Hamdan] said. I feel she said nothing (of substance) that was wrong, except for the fact we don’t pay utility bills. Other than that, it was all spot-on.”

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The day the Brits burnt down RAK.

Two hundred years ago, Ras al Khaimah was burnt to the ground. Today, experts say, that sacking by a British fleet has directly affected the shape of the UAE.
Thirteen lithographs on a wall of the Sharjah Art Museum show each grisly scene of the British attack on Ras al Khaimah on November 13 1809. Black smoke rises about a town engulfed in flames as soldiers fight door-to-door through the streets of 19th-century RAK.
The battle was the beginning of a new era in the Gulf: that of British control. It led to the General Treaty of 1820 that brought 150 years of peace and trade to the Gulf under the British and ensured a maritime truce between independent emirates that later formed the UAE.
But so brutal was the massacre of 1809 that its violence is still remembered in song and story two centuries later. Mention of the battle still brings pain to those from the area.
Yet if it had not been for the battle of 1809 and the resulting treaty in 1820, most historians agree, the UAE of 2009 would be a very different place.
“Because of that treaty, we have independent emirates,” said Dr Hasan al Naboodha, a history professor at UAE University. “It was divide and rule. Just imagine if the British didn’t come and attack the Qawasim, would you hear today about the emirate of Ajman or Umm al Qaiwain?”
The cause of the battle between the British and the Qawasim, the seafaring tribe that ruled coastal areas on the Eastern, Persian and Arabian coasts, is still hotly disputed among historians today. “The British accused the Qawasim of being pirates and attacking ships but we don’t know exactly what went on because we don’t have local sources from this time,” said Dr al Naboodha.
Contemporary British accounts depicted the Qawasim tribe as an unruly and ruthless group of plunderers and pirates.
Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, Ruler of Sharjah, challenged this in his 1986 book The Myth of Arab Piracy, which argued that the British were foreign intruders who sought to expand their power in the Gulf for the East India Company.
Until late in the 18th century, skirmishes between the Qawasim and British were rare. In 1797, however, the Viper, a British ship, was attacked by Qawasim dhows while anchored in Bushire an attack for which Sheikh Saqr bin Rashid, then of Ras al Khaimah, apologised and offered settlement.
In 1804 the British ships Trimmer and Shannon were attacked by Sheikh Qadhib al Qasimi of Lingeh.
In 1806, a treaty was agreed upon by the Qawasim, the British and the British-backed Omanis, long-standing rivals of the Qawasim. Within a few months, relations became strained between the Omanis and the Qawasim over territorial disputes at Qishm and the treaty fell apart.
In October 1808 the Qawasim were held responsible for an attack on the Sylph, an eight-gun British schooner, that killed 30.
The next May, the Qawasim seized the Minerva and took it to Ras al Khaimah with an officer’s wife on board. She was held for ransom. One survivor claimed that the Minerva was attacked by more than 50 dhows in a two-day battle that ended in the deaths of 45 of the 77 on board.
The event fuelled British anger against the Qawasim and a larger confrontation loomed.
Such events were popular in the British media, which, according to Dr Sheikh Sultan, exaggerated the numbers of those killed and vilified the Qawasim.
“It was the power of this saga to stir the imagination, as piracy still does, which ensured it would not be forgotten,” wrote Charles Davies in his 1997 book The Red Arab Flag: An Investigation into Qasimi Piracy, 1797-1820. “Contemporary newspapers, travellers, officers and others all felt moved to write about the Qawasim and British measures taken against them.”
But even before the Minerva incident, the Supreme Government in Calcutta had already made a decision to attack Ras al Khaimah.
A British fleet of 16 ships and more than 1,300 troops sailed from Bombay, now known as Mumbai, on September 14 1809, headed by HMS Chiffone and commanded by Capt Wainwright. The fleet reached Muscat, a British outpost, on the evening of November 11 and reached RAK within a day.
The Qawasim had no way of knowing which of their ports the British would attack. By the time they realised that the target was Ras al Khaimah, it was too late to call for assistance from their ships in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain or Hamriyah.
Dawn on November 12 brought the first assault from the British in the form of a naval bombardment that pummelled the town’s defences and homes.
The bombardment lasted until dusk. At nightfall, Ras al Khaimah’s leaders held a majlis and decided that they could not abandon their town. A thousand civilians, mostly women and children, were evacuated during the night and the men who remained prepared for battle.
In the early morning of November 13, 600 men from the British fleet landed near the town’s main defences. Forced to leave their boats several metres from the shore, the British struggled through chest-high water to reach the beach where they were greeted with musket fire by the Qawasim.
But numbers were on the side of the British. By midmorning, they had breached Ras al Khaimah’s defences and advanced on the town.
“There was no comparison between the two [forces],” said Dr al Naboodha. “The Qawasim had very, very old weapons that they used to take from other ships they had attacked.”
Although heavily outnumbered, the Qawasim fought the British in the narrow streets, house to house. The battle lasted for hours before the British decided to set the town’s houses alight. At 10am, the Qawasim began a retreat; men swam across the creek to safety, under the cover of smoke from their burning homes.
The next day, the British fleet left to attack remaining Qawasim ports across the Gulf. Over a month and a half, more than 100 Qawasim ships were destroyed.
The British campaign lasted until 1810 but for years afterwards the Royal Navy hunted vessels from the Qawasim ports, fearing that they would rebuild and challenge British naval power again. They also placed an embargo against the export of Indian teak to the Qawasim in an effort to stop them from rebuilding their fleets.
But by 1812, the Qawasim had rebuilt their ships with wood imported from Africa and, before long, were in maritime disputes with the British once more.
In December 1819, Britain resolved to stop the Qawasim expansion once and for all. More than 200 ships were destroyed and towns along the coast, from Rams to Abu Hail, were demolished. The town of Ras al Khaimah was razed to the ground.
These events led to the General Treaty of 1820, putting the Gulf firmly under British control and bringing maritime peace, trade and economic growth.
From then on, Ras al Khaimah, no longer focused on naval expansion, became a trade centre between Persia, India and the bedu-controlled interior.
The treaty of 1820 secured the autonomy of small emirates by splintering Qawasim control and led to 150 years of British governance in the Gulf.
And yet, local historians say that it came at a heavy cost.
“It’s a very sad history, everybody would say that,” said Dr Hamad bin Seray, an associate professor at the department of history and archaeology at UAE University. “People lost their independence.
“It made peace in the Gulf itself but not on the land; there was still a lot of killing and kidnapping inland. The British government wanted peace so its connection with south Iraq and India would be safe. We have a lot of documents from that period and I think a lot was British propaganda that said they came here to develop the area.”
Dr bin Seray, like many from Ras al Khaimah, believes the British response to alleged piracy was disproportionate, considering the suffering visited on the people of RAK.
“Even the excuse of the British government for the attack on RAK was that the Qawasim and people of RAK were pirates, but what did they do? They attacked a couple of British ships, nothing else,” he said. “And they [the British] attacked and killed a lot of people in RAK. The British destroyed all the forts, all the ruins, even the ships, everything was destroyed. They didn’t leave anything.”
Brig Saeed Laha, who runs his own museum in RAK and has spent years collecting the correspondence between the British and the Emirati rulers of the time, said 1809 was a tragedy that must be remembered.
“The people are defending themselves and their country,” said Brig Laha. “By sword, by old rifles, they fought one by one.”
Of course, he added, we may never know which version of history to trust.
“There are many stories and many songs about 1809 but you can’t believe everything,” he said. “The history is different from man to man.”
Source: The National
Photo: National Maritiem Museum

"Worst of the downturn over in Dubai": Sheikh Mohammed

Dubai has passed through the worst of the economic downturn, says Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE.
Dubai’s aim to become a global economic player is undiminished by the financial crisis and the emirate is well placed to pay its debts, says Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The speech to foreign investors at an event organised by Bank of America Merrill Lynch came less than two weeks after Dubai raised US$1.93 billion (Dh6.97bn), the first new loan from international markets since the crisis hit last year.
“The worst is over and Dubai is now well placed,” Sheikh Mohammed said in his speech in Dubai. “The global economic crisis, despite its impact, will not deter Dubai’s ambitions of implementing its development plans.”
The ruler’s comments helped pushed Dubai shares to their highest level in a week.
Sheikh Mohammed also expressed confidence that investors would subscribe to a second $10bn bond expected within weeks, after the Central Bank bought the first $10bn in February.
The $20bn bond programme was designed to ease repayments on $85bn in debt built up during the building boom of the past decade. There has been speculation on whether private investors will be interested in the second half of the bond.
“Those who know me trust me when I say that the second part of the bond programme initiated by Dubai recently will be well received by subscribers, and will contribute to settling Dubai’s financial obligations in the coming years,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
He reiterated the strength of Dubai’s links with Abu Dhabi, and told critics of their relationship to “shut up”.
“I assure you that we will be there for each other when we need it,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
Abu Dhabi’s oil and sovereign wealth savings are considered an important support to Dubai’s ability to service its debt, especially since credit markets tightened with the global banking crisis.
Dubai launched the $20bn support fund in response to the financial crisis, which caused property prices to fall, drained liquidity from banks and led to thousands of job cuts.
Defending Dubai’s response to the crisis, Sheikh Mohammed said: “We preferred to wait rather than rush into action, because we are keen to ensure that our major enterprises are restructured to allow them to have the momentum and strength they require to cope with the realities of the new economy.”
In the biggest sale of Islamic bonds in the Gulf so far this year, Dubai raised $1.93bn last month. Economists estimated that Dubai would need to either repay or refinance $10.1bn in debts coming due next year. It will need $12.1bn in 2011, $15.2bn in 2012 and $4.8bn in 2013.
The Government said on Sunday it repaid a $1bn Dubai Civil Aviation Authority sukuk due on November 4. Nakheel, the Dubai Government-controlled developer, is expected to repay a $3.5bn Islamic bond next month with bondholders due to receive more than $4bn in principal and profit.
“The speech delivers important reassurances,” said Eckart Woertz, the programme manager of economics at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai.
“However, markets don’t operate on political statements but on economic realities on the ground. In that sense, the repayment of developer Nakheel’s bond in December will be an important indication. Narrowing spreads show that the markets have regained confidence in Dubai’s ability to meet its obligations.”
Mr Woertz said a lack of information on Dubai’s debt situation had contributed to market scepticism in the past.
Source: The National 9 Nov 09

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Japanese builders owed billions for Dubai work

Source: 8 Nov 09
Japanese companies are owed billions for work done in Dubai, including the metro system, the Japanese consul general in Dubai has said. Japanese construction companies are facing "serious debt problems" amid issues with being paid for work done in Dubai, a top ranking official has said.
Seiichi Otsuka, the Japanese consul general in Dubai, claimed firms are still owed billions of dollars on projects that include the Dubai Metro and Palm Island, UAE daily The National reported on Sunday.
Japanese builders have played a major role in Dubai’s construction boom, spearheading work on the metro and other key projects in the emirate.
“Some Japanese construction companies are facing very serious debt problems,” Otsuka told the paper. “Some companies engaged with the construction of the Metro are facing some payment issues.”
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the lead company for the metro contract, are among those firms affected by non-payment on contracts, the paper added.
“MHI executed the construction of the Dubai Metro and some other contracts and we are still awaiting payment,” said Koji Okamoto, the general manager of the Middle East office of MHI in Dubai. The company has contracts in the Middle East valued at $150bn.
The Japanese government has not discussed the payment issues with the Dubai Government, nor has it intervened with financial assistance to those companies affected, Otsuka said.
“We are in a position to push both sides to make an amicable solution,” he said.
Otsuka told the paper it was difficult to put a figure on the outstanding debt as some payment was due shortly.
Last month, it was reported that some UK contractors were turning down invitations to chase work in Dubai because of continuing doubts over whether they will be paid on time.
According to Nelson Ogunshakin, the chief executive of the UK Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), a large number of UK firms significant number of UK firms are still owed money by struggling developers in the emirate.
In July, the UK government reiterated its call for contractors to be paid by Dubai developers – and said it was "continuing to monitor the situation".

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Prosecutors vow to hunt Istithmar World fraudster

UAE prosecutors have said steps will be taken to find and arrest a former senior executive of Istithmar Capital convicted on embezzlement charges.
An Interpol Red Notice could be issued for the arrest and possible extradition of Chris Turner, who was sentenced in absentia to five years in jail for embezzling AED4.9 million ($1.3m), UAE daily The National reported on Thursday.
The former risk assessment manager for the investment arm of Dubai World was also ordered by Dubai Criminal Court to pay $2.7m in fines and restitution.
Turner, speaking to newswire Zawya Dow Jones from a location outside the UAE, said: "I'm innocent of the charges and I'm not in the country. I'm reviewing my legal options.
"This is a matter for the appropriate authorities," said a spokesman at Istithmar World in an emailed statement to the newswire.
But prosecutors in the UAE said they would hunt for him.
“If the person is believed to be outside of the country, his location will be investigated and steps will be taken to return him in order to face his prosecution or serve his sentence,” said Shoaib Ahly, a Dubai public prosecutor in comments published by The National.
Dubai Police said once they received the case file, they could issue an Interpol Red Notice, which is not an international arrest warrant but a local warrant circulated worldwide with the request that the wanted person be arrested with a view to extradition.
On Tuesday, Turner was found guilty of purchasing stocks for Istithmar from a British horse brokerage company that he owned, then pocketing a portion of the funds.
Turner, 45, came to the UAE in 2003 and headed a company at the Dubai internet City before joining Dubai World.

Damas: Abdulla brothers to repay $165m over 18 months

Source: 4 Nov 09
Former Damas CEO Tawhid Abdulla.UAE jewellery retailer Damas International on Wednesday announced that the three Abdulla brothers have given a formal commitment to repay $165m they owe the company over the next 18 months.
The payment schedule is part of the formal settlement agreement between the Abdulla family and Damas, in respect of the repayment of unauthorised transactions that led to the resignation of Tawhid Abdulla as CEO last month.
The Abdulla brothers have undertaken to pay $55m within 6 months; an aggregate of $110m within 12 months; and the total within 18 months.
The company added that should auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) discover further unauthorised payments as part of their investigations, repayments would need to be paid within two years.
The Abdullah brothers produced a list of assets that are potentially available for liquidation to be converted by them into cash to meet their obligations.
These included real estate investments in the Middle East and North Africa (including a number of residential and commercial buildings and units in the UAE) and an investment in a shopping mall in Turkey.
As part of the settlement agreement, the Abdulla brothers have also pledged 350 million of their shares in the company that would be transferred in whole or in part back to the company in the event of the terms of the settlement Agreement are breached.
Last month, PWC was appointed by the board of the company as an independent auditor to examine unauthorised transactions conducted by former CEO and MD Tawhid Abdulla.
The appointment of PWC follows the formation of a separate committee to examine the transactions in detail.

Istithmar manager on the run

More on yesterday's story: "CT", Chris Turner, has contacted the National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and confirmed that he is now in the UK. He declares his innocence and is considering further legal action in a UK court.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Istithmar expat manager jailed for five years in Dubai

A British senior manager at the overseas investment arm of Dubai World has been jailed for embezzlement. A former senior manager at Istithmar World, the overseas investment arm of Dubai World, has been handed the longest prison sentence yet as part of a major crackdown on corruption.
The British manager, referred in court as CT, jailed for five years and ordered to pay almost AED10m ($2.7m) in fines after being found guilty of embezzling $1.34m, it was reported on Wednesday.
CT was accused of purchasing stocks for Istithmar from a British horse brokerage company that he owned, then pocketing a portion of the funds, UAE daily The National reported.
Judge El Saeed Bargouth ordered CT to repay the $1.3m and fined him the same amount. He further ordered that CT be dismissed from his position, the paper said
CT has two weeks to lodge an appeal. In the meantime he will be in custody at Al Awir Central Jail.
Meanwhile, appeals judges in the Sama Dubai fraud case were considering whether employees of state-funded companies could be tried as public officials.
If they rule that they can, it would leave the defendants in a number of corruption cases open to markedly heavier sentences if found guilty, the paper added.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Foreign home buyers to get residency in Oman.

The beach at Barr al Jissah, one of the areas foreigners will be permitted to purchase properties.
Text source: Reuters 2 Nov 09
Foreign home owners in Oman will be issued residency visas on completion. Oman will issue residency visas to foreign home owners after the completion of the properties and not on registration, a government official said on Monday.
Mohammed al-Sinani, the Tourism Ministry's director general of planning and follow-up, told Reuters that foreign property buyers would get a residence visa after the title deed has been changed to their names.
His comment camed after property buyers said that developers had promised they would receive residence visas while the homes are under construction.
"Home buyers get a multiple 3-week visiting visa each time they come when their property is under construction. Then they can apply to get two-year residency after the completion," Sinani said.
Buyers are also entitled to get residency for their family and parents. The residency will be cancelled and is transferable to the new owner when the property is sold, Sinani added.
Foreigners can only buy in areas called integrated tourism complex (ITC) - the Wave, Salalah Beach Resort, Barr Al-Jissah, Yiti Resort, Muscat Hills, Blue City and Jebel Sifah.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Saad chief accused of Ponzi scheme

Source: The National
Maan al Sanea, the head of the embattled Saad Group of Saudi Arabia, “operated one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history”, according to documents filed in a New York court.
“He fraudulently arranged for the borrowing of billions of dollars from dozens of banks, steadily increasing the loan levels year-by-year,” the filings allege. It is the latest legal broadside from the al Gosaibi family, which is locked in a bitter dispute with Mr al Sanea over what it claims is a US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) fraud.
A Ponzi scheme is a type of fraud in which investors are paid out of illusory profits which are actually fresh money injected into the business by new investors. The most famous example is the $68bn fraud by the disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff.
The claim, which Mr al Sanea has denied, came amid a flurry of legal action in New York late last week. The al Gosaibis made fresh allegations against Mashreqbank of Dubai in the ongoing battle between them over $400 million in disputed foreign exchange transactions.
The al Gosaibis filed documents that they said supported their claim that Mashreq was aware of the fraud they said was perpetrated on them by Mr al Sanea and that the bank aided and abetted Mr al Sanea’s conduct. Mashreq has rejected these claims.
Lawyers for Ahman Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers claimed to have unearthed fresh evidence of long-term collusion between Mr al Sanea and Mashreq. According to documents submitted by Al Gosaibi, in June 1999, Adel al Mannai, an officer of Mashreq in Bahrain, wrote to Mr al Sanea advising him that Mashreq “would like to start a relationship with the group and will contact you on my next visit to Al Khobar the Saudi city which is HQ that is home to both the Saad Group and Al Gosaibi to discuss in more detail areas of co-operation”.
The filings cast doubt on the nature of foreign exchange transactions between Mashreq and Al Gosaibi. These were, in fact, “short-term loans”, Al Gosaibi alleges, rather than genuine foreign exchange transactions, and were not based on genuine remittance business.
“The volume of forex transactions $4.97bn exceeded the volume of the remittance business $66.75bn by 75 times. The remittance business had nothing to do with the scheme, nor could Mashreq have thought that remitting money to foreign workers could remotely have approached the scale of these transactions,” said Al Gosaibi’s lawyers, the US firm of Baach Robinson and Lewis.
The filings also contain further allegations that Mr al Sanea committed forgery with Mashreq’s knowledge: “When Al Sanea directed employees to refuse to provide a notarised signature on loan documents, because the chairman of the Al Gosaibi company was comatose and could not sign, Mashreq agreed to waive the rules.”
In a statement, Mashreq responded: “The central facts in this case remain that the defendant, the Al Gosaibis, by failing to complete foreign exchange transactions totalling approximately $150 million, is in default of agreements with Mashreq, and we look forward to presenting our case to the court.
“As for Al Gosaibi’s allegations that its own organisation was riven with massive fraud and forgery, Mashreq saw no evidence of this, and at all times acted in good faith in dealing as a counterparty with Al Gosaibi. In making these claims, Al Gosaibi is trying to avoid its lawful obligations to Mashreq and the more than 100 other international financial institutions to which Al Gosaibi is now in default.”
In separate legal moves in New York, Mr al Sanea’s lawyers filed documents accusing Al Gosaibi of “forum shopping” – bringing actions in multiple jurisdictions around the world. They also disputed the jurisdiction of the New York courts as the appropriate arenas for the legal actions and argued that Saudi Arabia would be the best place to litigate the dispute.
Ian Edge, the director of the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, said: “In my opinion, Saudi Arabia is the most appropriate forum – probably the only appropriate forum – for the settlement of this dispute. It maintains an effective judicial system that is fully capable of adjudicating commercial disputes.”

Dubai wants to host the Olympics in 2020

Source: 2 November 09
The first meeting of Dubai 2020 team, which aims to bring the Olympic Games to the emirate, is set to take place on Monday.  The talks will be chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince, news agency WAM reported.
The meeting aims to start the preparation for the Dubai 2020 initiative, which also aims to bring the World Expo to Dubai in 2020.
The 2020 team will also work to bring other big international events to Dubai.
The committee includes Dubai's most senior officials such the Mohammed Al Shaibani, head of the ruler's court and Dhahi Khalfan Al Tamim, Dubai's chief of police and Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Emirates.
Japan's Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also launching a joint bid for the 2020 Olympics. Delhi, Istanbul and Budapest have already expressed interest in bidding.
If successful Dubai would become the first city in the Middle East to host the Olympics.